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Slavery's Exiles

The Story of the American Maroons

Sylviane A. Diouf

Publication Year: 2014

Over more than two centuries men, women, and children escaped from slavery to make the Southern wilderness their home. They hid in the mountains of Virginia and the low swamps of South Carolina; they stayed in the neighborhood or paddled their way to secluded places; they buried themselves underground or built comfortable settlements. Known as maroons, they lived on their own or set up communities in swamps or other areas where they were not likely to be discovered.
Although well-known, feared, celebrated or demonized at the time, the maroons whose stories are the subject of this book have been forgotten, overlooked by academic research that has focused on the Caribbean and Latin America. Who the American maroons were, what led them to choose this way of life over alternatives, what forms of marronage they created, what their individual and collective lives were like, how they organized themselves to survive, and how their particular story fits into the larger narrative of slave resistance are questions that this book seeks to answer. To survive, the American maroons reinvented themselves, defied slave society, enforced their own definition of freedom and dared create their own alternative to what the country had delineated as being black men and women’s proper place. Audacious, self-confident, autonomous, sometimes self-sufficient, always self-governing; their very existence was a repudiation of the basic tenets of slavery.
Sylviane A. Diouf is an award-winning historian specializing in the history of the African Diaspora, African Muslims, the slave trade and slavery. She is the author of Servants of Allah: African Muslims Enslaved in the Americas (NYU Press, 2013) and Dreams of Africa in Alabama: The Slave Ship Clotilda and the Story of the Last Africans Brought to America, and the editor of Fighting the Slave Trade: West African Strategies.

Published by: NYU Press

Title Page, Frontispiece, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-x

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pp. 1-16

"Lord, Lord! Yes indeed, plenty of slaves uster run away. Why dem woods was full o’ ’em chile,” recalled Arthur Greene of Virginia.1 He knew that some stayed there for a few days only but he also knew that his friend Pattin and his family had lived in the woods for fifteen years...

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1. The Development of Marronage in the South

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pp. 17-38

Maroons made their entry early in the annals of Southern history. They appeared in all colonies where slavery was introduced and the struggle against them has been particularly well chronicled. Evidence of their activities can be found in treaties with Indian nations, official correspondence...

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2. African Maroons

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pp. 39-71

"Some niggers jus’ come from Africa and old Marse has to watch ‘em close, ‘cause they is de ones what mostly runs away to de woods.”1 Although he was born in 1836, almost thirty years after the United States had abolished its international slave trade, Cinte Lewis knew what he...

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3. Borderland Maroons

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pp. 72-96

John Sally “runned away an’ didn’ never come back. Didn’ go no place either. Stayed right ’roun’ de plantation.”1 Like Sally, most maroons did not look for freedom in remote locations; instead they settled in the borderlands of farms and plantations. If not caught by men and dogs, and...

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4. Daily Life at the Borderlands

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pp. 97-129

As they settled down at the margins of the slave world, borderland maroons embarked on a life that had little in common with the old one. Working under duress from “sun up to sun down” was over. Although they were now free to manage their own time and organize their own...

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5. Hinterland Maroons

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pp. 130-156

The farther reaches of the maroon landscape harbored secluded communities, large and small. The experience of their members was similar in some respects to that of the people who settled at the margins of plantations, but their design was different. Whereas borderland maroons relied heavily...

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6. The Maroons of Bas du Fleuve, Louisiana: From the Borderlands to the Hinterland

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pp. 157-186

The most famous maroon community of Louisiana was formed, lived, and was destroyed in the early 1780s in St. Bernard Parish in the region called Bas du Fleuve, or Lower River, southeast of New Orleans. Its saga is well documented because the authorities charged to eliminate it...

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7. The Maroons of Belleisle and Bear Creek

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pp. 187-208

One of the most intriguing and long-lasting maroon communities established itself in the 1780s in the southern part of Georgia and South Carolina on both sides of the lower Savannah River. A number of scholars have briefly mentioned its existence but its story has not been...

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8. The Great Dismal Swamp

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pp. 209-229

"One could imagine that there may be many negroes living still in the swamp, who have not yet heard that the war is over and that they are free.”1 Such was the reputation for isolation of the Great Dismal Swamp maroons that two years after Emancipation, one could hypothesize that...

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9. The Maroon Bandits

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pp. 230-255

From the slave society’s perspective maroons were outlaws in more senses than one. Since they were someone else’s property, by absconding they committed theft. Additionally, they were considered to be rebelling against their enslavers, which was a crime, and by raiding plantations...

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10. Maroons, Conspiracies, and Uprisings

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pp. 256-285

The Alleghenies “are the basis of my plan. God has given the strength of the hills to freedom, they were placed here for the emancipation of the negro race; they are full of natural forts, where one man for defense will be equal to a hundred for attack; they are full also of good...

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11. Out of the Wilds

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pp. 286-304

Maroons may have envisioned a long life of freedom in the wilderness, but most did not achieve that dream. For many, what pushed them out of the woods prematurely were militia attacks, slave hunters’ assaults, sickness, and lack of prudence. The maroons who made it out...

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pp. 305-312

When American marronage is mapped from the borderlands to the hinterland it becomes evident that it was more widespread and more multifaceted than previously thought. Maroons did not constitute a monolithic population: they made the decision to settle in the wilds for...


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pp. 313-356

Select Bibliography

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pp. 357-374


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pp. 375-392

About the Author

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p. 393-393

E-ISBN-13: 9780814724491
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814724378
Print-ISBN-10: 081472437X

Page Count: 384
Publication Year: 2014